Bye bye summer, perhaps, but goodbye to tourists? Not with the holidays on the way.

Even with the Labor Day Weekend about to come and go, tourism offices are expected to stay busy straight through to the end of the year. (Photo by Steve Schwartz).

DAVENPORT – if there’s one thing to keep in mind about the Labor Day Weekend, it’s that this is the last big vacation hurrah for the summer, and then the kids go back to school, the parents go back to work, and the vacations and traveling are over.
Well, in Central Florida, anyway …. not necessarily.
Across this region, Labor Day will be a holiday, all right, but it doesn’t mark the end of the efforts to bring flocks of tourists here. In fact, for this region, the fall can be very big business, indeed.
“There’s always something going on, thankfully,” said An Flamand, who runs USA Vacation Homes in Davenport, which manages vacation homes in the region. “There are so many different things going on in Orlando.”
Although September can sometimes be a slow month as the kids get back into the classroom, by October, the fall tourism season begins to kick into high gear with a host of Halloween events at the theme parks, including Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Disney’s Magic Kingdom and Halloween Spooktacular at Seaworld.
And today, Universal Studios Orlando unveiled its television commercial for the annual Halloween Horror Nights, which this year will feature Lady Luck, who transforms from a seductress into a bloodthirsty demon. Halloween Horror Nights starts on Set. 23, and it has — along with the entire Halloween season — been a big draw for this region.
“Halloween generally starts the special events season and the holiday season here,” said Sylvia Oliande, public relations representative for the Kissimmee Convention and Visitors Bureau.
This year, Halloween Horror Nights will feature eight new haunted houses, six “scare zones,” and two new live shows – plenty of terror to deal with.
“It’s a game of wills to see if you can survive the odds while a horde of mutants, monsters and maniacs roam the darkened studio streets,” Universal boasts on its web site.
As someone in the region’s lucrative hospitality industry, Flamand said she can’t wait for it to start.
“People underestimate the impact Halloween Horror Nights has,” she said. “Halloween definitely has an impact on our industry, and then we’re back to Christmas and New Year’s, which is our peak season. It’s still going to be a busy season for us.”
Of course, Halloween Horror Nights won’t be grabbing all the headlines in October. As Oliande noted, the region is awaiting the grand opening of Central Florida’s newest theme park, courtesy of Merlin Entertainments.
“We’ve got Legoland coming,” she said.
Legoland Florida is opening in Winter Park where the former Cypress Gardens theme park used to be. It will be modeled after the popular theme parks in Europe and California.
It’s going to be the big event this fall in Polk County, said Hank Longo, visitor services manager for Polk Outpost 27, the visitors information office on U.S. 27 in Davenport.
“We’re waiting for Legoland, that’s definitely the big thing coming,” he said. “We’ve got big murals of Legoland on our walls, and a lot of literature on it.”
It should all be a recipe, Flamand said, for bringing plenty of tourists to this region over the next four months.
“The European market comes over here around Easter and stays through the summer, and the more domestic market comes here around Labor Day and is here through Thanksgiving to New Year’s,” she said.
Flamand now serves on the board of directors for the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, the trade group representing the fast-growing number of vacation homes in Central Florida. This has been a solid growth industry, particularly in Osceola and Polk counties.
Flamand, who will serve as the association’s president next year, said the industry does quite well during the holiday season from Halloween to New Year’s, as families look to book their vacations in a fully furnished home with multiple bedrooms and a kitchen, private pool and game room – particularly if they also happen to want to invite other members of their family over for special days like Thanksgiving, Christmas or New year’s day.
“People book the bigger homes for family gatherings,” she said. “We’re seeing more vacations where people book vacation homes and then invite their entire family over.”
Although the hotel and motel industry traditionally dominated the region’s hospitality field, the vacation home industry is building its own solid reputation, she added.
“I think more and more people are getting used to the idea and are experiencing it,” Flamand said. “The only thing is, a lot of the people who have never tried it before, they have a lot of questions – ‘Is there linen, what do we have to bring with us,’ and so on.
“But it’s the perfect family vacation, to be honest,” she added. “You don’t have to watch for the pool hours. At a hotel, the pool closes at such and such a time. At the house, the pool is so conveniently close to the house that the kids can sit outside in the pool and the dad can stay inside and watch TV right next to the pool deck.”

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Fifty years later, “12 Angry Men” still packs a real punch, director says.

WINTER PARK – Sylvia Vicchiullo remembers exactly where she was – in a restaurant – when the news flashed across the television screen, and it seemed like everyone in the room froze.
“It was almost like ‘Where were you when Kennedy was shot,’ “ she said. “Everyone got up and went to the television to hear that verdict. Time stopped in that split second.”
What was being reported on the television screen was perhaps the most highly anticipated decision in years: the jury’s verdict in the Casey Anthony murder trial. Vicchiullo and everyone else in that restaurant listened in silence as the not guilty verdict was read.
“Everybody in that restaurant I was in were pretty much in the same mindset – how the hell did that happen,” she said. “It was very curious – how did they find this girl innocent? Maybe it’s that they didn’t think she was innocent, but maybe there was enough reasonable doubt not to convict her.”
Vicchiullo thought about that verdict as she spent the past few weeks herself in a jury room – although it wasn’t as a juror on a legal case, criminal or civil. That jury room was inside the Breakthrough Theatre in Winter Park, where Vicchiullo is the director of their latest production, “12 Angry Men,” the classic Reginald Rose drama, which opens on Friday and runs through Sept. 19.

Tyler Houcks plays Juror #5 in Breakthrough Theatre's production of "12 Angry Men." (Photo by Sylvia Vicchiullo.)

“12 Angry Men,” of course, is the classic drama about a first degree murder trial. Eleven of the jurors are ready to convict the defendant and go home. But one juror holds out. He’s not convinced the case is so clear cut. But can he actually persuade the other 11 jurors that there is, in fact, reasonable doubt – or will they convince him to vote guilty and make it unanimous?
Originally a television movie in the 1950s, it became an Academy Award winning movie in 1957, directed by Sidney Lumet, and – set entirely in that jury room, with the 12 male actors – it made a smooth and easy transition to the stage.
And it’s a reminder, said the Breakthrough Theatre’s artistic director, Wade Hair, that people love a good courtroom drama.
“People are still fascinated with controversial, circus-like trials,” Hair said. “Just look at how riveted people were with the Casey Anthony trial.”
Vicchiullo agreed, and said she thought about the Casey Anthony trial while directing this play, which she said has aged well, even though it was written 50 years ago.
“The only thing that I feel is dated is the language, which is a little more fifties-ish than modern lingo,” she said. “But the premise of the story is just as relevant today. The jurors still represent a cross section of the people we encounter on a daily basis. We come into these trials with our own preconceived concepts, even though they ask you not to do that. Reginald Rose was making a point that not everything is what it seems, and the whole concept of reasonable doubt is, before we send this man off to die, we need to talk about it first. I think it still is relevant, especially after the Casey Anthony trial.”
In fact, Vicchiullo noted that people stayed glued to the Anthony trial for weeks – a reminder that a high profile trial can attract a huge audience. She’s hoping for the same with this production.
”I’m counting on it,” she said. “This is a really well written drama, and it translates very well to the stage.”

Jurors #12 (Matt Goodman), #11 (Marty Wicks) and #8 (Cory Boughton) discuss the trial in "12 Angry Men." (Photo by Sylvia Vicchiullo.)

It helps quite a bit, she said, that the production attracted 12 great actors who reallhy bring the show to life. That assisted in her main goal, ensuring that the play didn’t drag as it deals with 12 men at a table, talking.
“That’s the biggest thing, how to not let it get stagnant, because they’re all sitting around a table,” she said. “One positive thing about Breakthrough that I like is it’s such a small theater. I saw ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ there last year and I felt like I was in the attic with them. I think Breakthrough really lends itself to a play like this. You feel like you’re in the jury room. When you see those men, you see the nuances in them. You see their eyebrows raised.”
And her cast, she added, is phenomenal.
“We had 28 men show up for the auditions,” she said. “I could have cast this show twice. There’s an incredible amount of talent out there. There’s not a lot of action in this show, and no singing. But what they bring is incredible realism. These guys are amazing.”
“12 Angry Men” will performed at 8 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays, and 3 p.m. on Sundays, at the theater at 419A W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park. Tickets cost $18 for general admission, $15 for seniors, $12 for students, and $10 for anyone who has worked with Breakthrough Theatre in the past. The Monday night shows are $10 for everyone.
For reservations, call 407-920-4034.

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They’re strong and green-friendly: welcome to College Hunks Hauling Junk.

From two college students in D.C., College Hunks Hauling Junk now has 37 franchise offices nationwide.

ORLANDO — Johnny Ansari has known what it’s like to be a college hunk, available to remove your junk.
“It’s hard, but you don’t need a gym membership,” he said. “I’ve been out on the truck, hauling, and then I worked in the call center, where I was the manager. It’s fun. I learn something every day.”
At age 27, Ansari thinks he’s a tad bit old to still be operating the truck for College Hunks Hauling Junk, the business that delivers college students to the home of anyone looking to remove whatever it is inside their house that they no longer want or need.
But he’s still with the company – and, in fact, recently branched out to become the operational manager of the Orlando office, where he recruits college students to drive the trucks and haul the junk – just like Ansari himself was doing a few years ago.
“It’s definitely a cool company,” he said. “It’s fun. It’s young entrepreneurship. Now it’s to the point where it’s on the bigger level for me, which I’m stoked about.”
College Hunks Hauling Junk was started seven years ago by two college students in the District of Columbia who used a van to haul junk out of people’s homes. From those humble beginnings, a nationwide company has grown.
“They actually started franchising,” Ansari said. “When I started working for the call center three years back, believe it or not they were at 16 franchises, so it’s grown quite a bit in the last few years. Now it’s up to 37 branches nationwide. It’s awesome. We strive to be the largest employer of college kids nationwide. We pick up donatable items and junk, and pretty much get whatever people need removed.”
Orlando is a great location for this kind of business, Ansari said, because it’s a very transient city – people come, people go.
“Hundreds of families move in and out of Orlando every week,” he said, adding that the typical customer is “usually homeowners, ages anywhere from 28 to 45, who have disposable income and just got a new couch in, and they just want to haul away the old one, or they don’t have the help to carry it out to the curb, or don’t want strangers doing it. We’re able to provide that service.
“We also get calls from Realtors as well, who have clients that need the stuff out of a home, or a tenant has left stuff in the house, and just before the Realtor needs to do a walk through, they need to get rid of the old couch or the old refrigerator,” he added. “We’ll haul it away, six days a week.”
So what defines a college “hunk”? Ansari laughed and said attitude is the key.

Do you have what it takes to be a College Hunk Hauling Junk?

“We get that question a lot,” he said. “You’d be surprised at how much we get asked that. Hunk is a subjective term. I think of it as being honest, informed, nice and knowledgeable students. It’s just someone that the client feels comfortable letting into their house. It’s pretty much a clean cut appeal, as opposed to big and bulky. It’s just our niche, and our definition. Hard working movers are tough to find these days. We provide comfort, safety and trust.”
What’s more unique about this business, he added, is how “green” it is, providing a service that’s not only good for the client, but for the environment as well.
“A lot of people don’t want to throw away their stuff,” Ansari said. “They don’t want it to go to waste. So we get rid of it in the greenest way possible.”
That includes recycling and reusing as much of the junk they haul away as possible.
“We try to stay away from the landfill and just dumping stuff,” he said. “If you get some books or decent furniture with some scratches on it, we’ll try to use it in some way. We get a wide variety of stuff, including things we can take to recycling centers. This helps clean up the environment, as well as employ kids working their way through college. We strive to be the largest U.S-based, clean cut collegiate service. We’re always on time and committed to the environment in one way of another.”
With the fall school session just starting, Ansari said he’s always on the lookout for more college hunks to work for him.
“School is starting up, and students need extra money in their pockets,” Ansari said. “With the Florida heat, it’s hard to find guys who are this ambitious, so we’re always looking for new hunks and team leaders.”
To learn more, log on to, call 1-800-JUNK-USA, or contact Ansari directly at 321-299-2544 or

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